Drug and Alcohol testing of Community-based Offenders and Bailees legislation Bill - First Reading

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

IAN McKELVIE (National—Rangitīkei): It is a pleasure to rise to speak to the Drug and Alcohol Testing of Community-based Offenders and Bailees Legislation Bill. It is also a pleasure to rise to speak to a bill that seems to have comparative support around the House—and may that continue as it progresses through the select committee stage and on to becoming law.

I guess I take a slightly different view from that of some of our previous speakers on one or two of the issues that are behind this, and I will outline them as I go along, but I just want to go into the background of drug and alcohol testing. Of course, for some time now we have been drug and alcohol testing in the workplace. It has had a significant impact on quite a large number of people in our community. It has also tidied up our workplace safety and I think, on the whole, workplaces, as a result of that drug and alcohol testing, are much better places. In the sports field, in the sports arena—and I think of the racing industry in particular—there has also been significant need to test for both drugs and alcohol, both animals and humans, actually. Again, it has cleaned up those sports. It has got them working to a much better extent, although you would have to wonder in one or two cases whether we have got the balance right in respect of how we test and where we test. Again, we get on to our schools. There has been some talk of testing in schools and there is certainly some need to test in some instances in our schools. Finally, I want to get on to our roads, where we test for just about everything on a constant basis.

So having tested all of those parts of our community and our life, you would wonder how it has taken us so long to get on to testing people whom we let into our community who have offended in some way and whom we are trying to reform. So it is really, I think, a great way to get these people behaving in a different manner than they behaved before, but before we can do that we have got to go back to the basis of the problem.

I think that in the case of many of the people who end up in prison or offending for whatever reason, sure they have been affected by drug and alcohol at the time they offend, but I think we need to investigate the reasons why they take drugs and alcohol or why they tend to use them and as a result of that, offend. I will never defend the use of drugs. I think that it is something that is, on the whole, beyond our control as people and certainly beyond our control once we start using them. However, I do want to defend the use of alcohol in moderation.

To bring in laws that impose penalties on us and impose on the 99 percent of people—perhaps 95 percent of people would be more accurate—who have no problem with alcohol, I think it is necessary that we have some moderation around how we impose legislation on those people, because it certainly impacts on the average person’s life. I, for one, do not believe that passing laws to rectify the wrongs of 2 to 3 percent of our community should necessarily affect the other 97 percent. So I think that we need to go back into those problems that have caused this. It is often a learning disability or difficulties, personality issues, health issues, and other personal issues that lead to the use of drugs and alcohol and, consequently, lead on to crime.

The reason for the crime, of course, is that both of these habits are expensive and often lead to crime in order to procure these things. So the people who end up in our prisons and are then either released on parole or released into community service need, first of all, to have some very comprehensive programmes put in place to rehabilitate them and give them the opportunity to shake the bad habits that they have acquired around drugs and alcohol. I think our prisons are starting to do that very well and I guess I take issue with a couple of things that David Clendon said, although I realise that he supported the bill on the whole.

First of all, I do not think we are putting more people in prison as a result of crime. We are getting a lot more of them based in our community, and the use of GPS and those sorts of tools is making it much easier for us to put people back in our community and to make sure that we know where they are and what they are up to. The tools for drug and alcohol testing will also enhance that and enable our law and order community to ensure that those people are adhering to the conditions set down for them. So, as has been said by a number of our speakers, the process for drug and alcohol testing of these people will be carefully controlled. It will be not exactly random but it will be supervised at all times. I think that the process that we go through will be very good and will make a big difference to how these people rehabilitate once they are put out into our community.

This Government is putting a lot of effort into remodelling our social housing stock throughout our communities, and when you think about a lot of people who end up offending in New Zealand, before they offend, during the time of their offending, and after offending, they rely on community and social housing for that rehabilitation. They often come from that background and it is most important, as we go through this rehabilitation and the use of drug testing to help with that rehabilitation, that we also pay significant attention to the social housing requirements of these people and the fact that we need to house them in an environment where they are not enticed to go back and reoffend in the manner that they have in the past. I think that is part of the Government’s efforts around social housing and it is certainly part of the communities that I come from. The Manawatū district, for example, had a number of—208, in fact—community houses. A large piece of the work they did on those community houses was to ensure that there were social systems in place to support the people who lived in those houses.

We have lived in an environment in New Zealand for many years—for almost hundreds of years—where we have not had, I guess, the social service environment around our social housing that enables us to protect people who have been put there to live, or have been let out of prison, or have gone through the rehabilitation process from their criminal time and then been put back into the community. So there are a number of things that I think are particularly important and I think that one of them is to try to understand the reason why people who end up in prison start offending under the influence of drugs and alcohol. I think it can often be traced to their background, the fact that they are challenged by the education system and have not got through that education system as well as they might have.

Certainly the current Minister of Education is putting a great effort into ensuring that kids leave school with a decent start and that they have had a much better education than perhaps we have been accustomed to in this country. Last week I visited Rangitīkei College with her, which 3 years ago had a level 1 National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) pass rate of 35 percent. Of course, when you have got that many people leaving school with no qualifications at all it is highly likely that they are going to offend, get into trouble with drugs and alcohol, and end up in the judicial system. That position has reversed in 3 years from 35 percent level 1 NCEA to now being at the level of 80 percent after 3 years’ work. That will, in my view, make a big difference to the reoffending rate in the Rangitīkei community and certainly in Marton where that school is based.

I look forward to this bill getting to the select committee stage. I also look forward to the cooperation of all the parties on the Law and Order Committee. I have been fortunate to have been on that select committee for the last 3 years, and I am there again this term. It is an interesting select committee to work with because we seem to cooperate a lot in these types of bills. I was really pleased to hear today about the amount of support that this bill has from around the House. Our committee is led by that very auspicious man Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi, and we look forward to working with him as we progress this bill. So it is a difficult task for the select committee and a challenge for our community to get these people back in the community and in one piece.

I commend this bill to the House and look forward to the next few months of working on it. Thank you.